British Sea Power Waves Flags, Manics Go Wild: U.K. Rock Review

The cover art for "Valhalla Dancehall," the fourth album by U.K. rock group British Sea Power. The band has started a tour to promote the CD. Source: Rough Trade via Bloomberg

British Sea Power is a backward-looking name for a band being touted as one of the next big things for indie rock.

The U.K. group is starting a year of touring in support of its CD “Valhalla Dancehall.” In the past, the sextet played remote pubs and decorated stages with twigs and leaves. This time there are only a few nautical flags, with a souvenir stall selling British Sea Power fudge.

The songs are far from stripped down though, adding layers of guitar, viola, keyboards and trumpet. At their best, British Sea Power is as anthemic as Arcade Fire, as guileless as Coldplay, as focused as U2. Unlike such acts, BSP is refreshingly pomp-free. The gigs (and fudge) are recommended.

British Sea Power is rolling out its show as the Manic Street Preachers wind down concerts for the album “Postcards From a Young Man.” The Welsh trio, augmented with extra keyboards and guitar, pile on showbiz glam at a O2 Academy Brixton show shared with BSP.

A glitzy red curtain and glitterballed mannequins frame the stage as the Manics bash out the opening riff of “Slash ‘N’ Burn,” a potent Guns N’ Roses facsimile.

Early songs, slabs of art-punk like “Motown Junk,” are as contrary as when they first annoyed the rock cognoscenti 20 years ago. A cover of the M*A*S*H theme, “Suicide Is Painless,” is poignant. It was originally recorded before the disappearance of the band’s fourth member, Richie Edwards.

Recent tracks like “(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love” surge with Hollywood-sized melodies. Bassist Nicky Wire, in shades and a schoolboy tie and blazer, scissor-kicks with abandon. Singer James Dean Bradfield is back on form -- the show was canceled last October when he got laryngitis. Fans sing themselves hoarse with every word, right up to the wild finale “A Design for Life.”

Rating: *** ½.


What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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